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UMass ‘Sidekicks’ Program Matches Medical Students With Sick Children

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WORCESTER (CBS) – A student program at UMass Medical School is helping take the fear out of medical treatments for some children.

Hospitals are frightening to any child, but for children with life-threatening illnesses, who get poked and prodded, sometimes for years, the school offers something like a big brother program that makes going through treatment just a little bit easier.

Dr. Naheed Usmani, a pediatric oncologist, developed the program called “Sidekicks” that matches medical students with very sick children undergoing treatment at UMass Medical Center in Worcester.

“The medical students find it very meaningful. It really anchors them why they went into medicine which you can really lose in the first two years of basic science,” he told WBZ-TV.

Christian Campero, 6, of Northborough and second-year medical student Walter Palmer are among those who were paired.

Christian has leukemia, and the road hasn’t been an easy one.

But Campero’s mom says Palmer has provided the distraction that her son badly needed.

He was scared in the beginning, but as soon as he knows Walter is coming, that’s all he’s thinking about,” Tricia Campero said. “It helped us to have someone else to talk to besides the nurses and the doctors who became a friend.”

Liam Fitzgerald, also from Northborough, is now in remission from leukemia,

His sidekick Julie Tabroff played a huge role in his recovery.

“Julie would come after he classes, come visit us at night, come visit us before the surgery, all of our clinic visits,” Fitzgerald’s mom Christine said.

They’ve now been together for four years.

“I never expected the relationship that I built with Liam to be this spectacular and to grow into a lasting friendship,” Tabroff said.

Dr. Usmani says it’s a win-win for students, who learn what life is like for a child with a serious illness, and for the families, who sometimes just need some time to regroup.

The first and second year medical students do get course credit for participating.

They are required to make contact with their buddies at least twice a month and they have to attend lectures and write something at the end of the course.

This program is the first of its kind. But similar programs have started at three other schools, including Boston University.

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